Children’s Book of the Week: Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola

This week’s children’s book of the week is the award-winning Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola.  It tells the story of Rocket, a girl who loves astronomy, and her big brother, who prefers his phone.  We found five online things to do that are all inspired by the story.

  1. Look Up! Storytime and draw-along

First up is this reading of the story on YouTube, plus a draw-along feature with illustrator Dapa Adeola.  You might recognise the author Nathan Bryon from his TV sitcom work!

  1. Build a spaceship craft activity

Younger kids can really go to town creating their own spaceship with this fun craft activity.

  1. Mae Jemison colouring sheet

In the story, Rocket is inspired by her hero Dr Mae Jemison.  We found this awesome colouring sheet celebrating the astronaut’s achievements.  

  1. OurShelves: Meet Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola

Check out this YouTube film featuring the author and illustrator talking about how they created the book.

 

  1. Make your own scratch art

Children can create the wonders of space using this amazingly effective scratch art technique.

Book Review: The Clutter Corpse and Other Murders

Simon Brett photo
Author Simon Brett

Over to Zvezdana!

Simon Brett’s new leading character is Ellen Curtis, an amateur sleuth and decluttering expert. She even owns a decluttering agency, SpaceWoman, in Chichester. Her business grew from a casual favour, but when she finds a corpse in the old house, her world will change its course forever.

Glancing around my living room, God forbid peeping into the wardrobes, I feel that Ellen would be quite in her environment if she suddenly wandered into my flat. As many of us did during the lockdown, I attacked the clutter very fearlessly, at least for the first few days. Afterwards, the Proust effect took over and I was left almost choking on madeleine biscuits. Wherever you look, the ghosts of the past are waiting for the right time to ambush you.  I do not call myself a hoarder, but the idea of a professional declutterer sounds very appealing to me. Going through anyone’s accumulated belongings would make a good detective story, perhaps with the rosebud effect; even without hidden corpses. So, from the start I have been captivated by even the idea of Simon Brett’s new heroine and book. 

Ellen’s personal problems, her family history and how she deals with depression, make her very likeable and believable.  The backstory of The Clutter Corpse is almost as interesting as the main who-done-it thread.  Ellen joins other Brett’s famous amateur sleuths – a widow Mrs Melita Pargeter,  aging actor Charles Paris, and the Fethering ladies, Carol and Jude.  They are not flawless detectives; they gossip, they cheat, usually drink too much, have considerable memory baggage. They are mostly middle-aged people who frequently do not know how to deal with personal and other issues. That is exactly what makes them real; sometimes I like them and other times I just want to argue with them!

Humour and irony lace all Brett’s novels and characters. Be aware. It is hazardous reading Brett’s novels on public transport, especially now – with masks on and shaking with laughter.

I look forward to more in this series and expect to be delightfully entertained, as usual.  

If Zvezdana’s recommendation has piqued your interest, check out our (free!) Simon Brett event! Hear the author speak about his new book, The Clutter Corpse and Other Murders, and ask him any burning questions you may have! Tickets can be booked at the link here.

Clutter Corpse is available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  All you need is an RBKC library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry,  just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources. 

Recommended Reads

This week, our Book of the Week is The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste. Set during Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King is an exhilarating tale of a band of female fighters refusing to submit to European colonisation. If you’ve already been wowed by Mengiste’s novel, we’ve selected some empowering reads for you to enjoy.

 

forna-memory-of-love-coverThe Memory of Love, by Aminatta Forna

Set in Sierra Leone, Forna’s novel explores the physical and psychological impact of warfare alongside the love which endures through horrific circumstances. The Memory of Love follows the lives of three people; Elias Cole, dying and reflecting on his obsessive love for Saffia, Adrian Lockheart, a psychologist new to the country, and Kai Mansaray, a young colleague of Adrian’s. Recording their loves, their friendships and their suffering, Forna’s novel is a poignant reminder of what makes us human and the emotions which bind us all together.

 

broken glass book cover

Broken Glass, by Alain Mabanckou

Broken Glass, frequenter of Congolese bar ‘Credit Gone West’ has been commissioned by the bar’s owner to write an account of the characters who comprise the bar’s patrons. A disgraced alcoholic and former schoolteacher, Broken Glass records his writings in his notebook. The notebook is Glass’s legacy, dedicated to his love of French literature and to his former drinking buddies.

 

 

a tall history of sugar book coverA Tall History of Sugar, by Curdella Forbes

Moshe Fisher has always been treated differently. “Born without skin” and abandoned at birth, Moshe’s appearance defies racial categories. Arrienne Christie is Moshe’s best friend, determined to protect him from the world and its intolerance. A Tall History of Sugar follows Moshe’s life from Jamaica, and the colonial legacy left behind there, to Britain and the looming uncertainty of Brexit. Forbes’ writing is a lyrical blend of Jamaican Englishes, recounting Jamaican histories and stories through Moshe and the people he encounters.

hidden figures book cover

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Now an iconic motion picture, Hidden Figures follows three brilliant African American women whose minds launched America into space. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson initially worked as human computers for NASA. Forced into the background as a part of a female team of calculators, whose job was to solve problems for the male engineers, Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary fought against racial segregation and sexism in an incredibly male-dominated field. Shetterly focusses on Katherine Johnson in particular, and her work calculating rocket trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo missions. Johnson pushed herself forward throughout her career, and, when her abilities were recognised, she could attend all-male meetings within NASA. This is an incredible and insightful biography and well worth a read!

Some of these books are available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  All you need is an RBKC library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry,  just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources. 

The Maimie Papers

At Kensington Central Library, we are fortunate in having the largest special collection of biographies in the country (and possibly further afield!) – 85,000 volumes of published biographical material: biography, autobiography, collections of letters, diaries, journals and speeches.

Continue reading “The Maimie Papers”

Opened Ground – poems by Seamus Heaney

This week we have Richard from Brompton Library who is reviewing Seamus Heaney’s collection of poems, Opened Ground.

 

I can thoroughly recommend any collection of poems by Seamus Heaney and there are many in digital form to choose from on the Cloud Library. Selected poems 1966-1975 was my first introduction to the poet many years ago. These poems have a strong connection with the land and the country. The language has a tactile quality that brings you cheek by jowl with the sensuality of nature.

Interestingly, many people during the early stages of lockdown in London, commented on the sudden pleasure of seeing nature more clearly: the burst of colour (early Spring), noticing many animal species compared with pre-lockdown and hearing more varied bird sounds etc.

Heaney’s Gifts of Rain from Opened Ground, floods the senses with its use of monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words that capture the tactile feel of a straw-footed mammal on the mud and the sounds and smells of the river Moyola bursting its banks near Heaney’s hometown. The relationship of the worker to the land is pictured in the brush-stroke of a line: ‘A man wading lost fields breaks the pane of flood: a flower of mud- water blooms up to his reflection.’  Many of the poems dwell on this relationship of the people with the land such as The Tollund Man and Bog Queen, poems based on Bronze aged cadavers that have been preserved in the peat bogs of northern Europe capture this intimacy between the people and the land through bold imagery and rich use of metaphor: ‘my body was braille for the creeping influences.’ In addition to these themes is a concern with the political situation that dominated his landscape during these formative years. There is a great selection of his work to be found here on cloudLibrary:

New Selected Poems 1988 – 2013

District and Circle

North

Death of a Naturalist

Human Chain

Beowulf

If you would like to read any of these works of Seamus Heaney, they are available here from our cloudLibrary.  All you need is your Kensington and Chelsea Library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry, just click here to join.

Biographies from the Basement

At Kensington Central Library, we are fortunate in having the largest special collection of biographies in the country (and possibly further afield!) – 85,000 volumes of published biographical material: biography, autobiography, collections of letters, diaries, journals and speeches.

We are delighted to have reopened the library, and it is possible for you to borrow books from the Biography Collection once again (as our regular readers will know, the collection is never open for direct browsing access to the public, but all except our most fragile books may be borrowed). To minimise staff trips to the store while our one-way system is in place, we have organised timed collections of books.  These will take place at 12pm and 5pm Monday to Friday, and at 12pm and 4pm on Saturdays.  Please email your requests to libraries@rbkc.gov.uk

With the social distancing measures we are currently taking in the library, it won’t be possible to have our normal monthly display of books from the collection. In this blog I will have a fortnightly look at a book, and will sometimes take the opportunity to showcase (virtually!) one of our most interesting, quirky or unusual volumes.  I will also feature a cover and an inscription. In every post I’ll include an extract of the biography of someone who lived in Kensington or Chelsea at some point – see if you can identify the person!  Hope you enjoy it.

 

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

 

Biography of the Week

Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography

By Zora Neale Hurston

“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows with a harp and a sword in my hands.”

When I first discovered Zora Neale Hurston’s writing in my early 20s, I was bowled over – the copy of her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God I borrowed from Hammersmith Library opened up a world where poetic images tumbled and glittered like fragments of foil in a kaleidoscope, moving so quickly that I often had to revisit sentences to savour the impact.  But the writing was never self-conscious or showy, and Hurston’s underlying voice was perfectly controlled, generous and vital, sharp as a scalpel.  The power and inventiveness of her metaphors was such that I still remember some of them all these years later.

In 1942, at the same time as E. B. White was writing the essays we looked at last time, Hurston published Dust Tracks on a Road, her autobiography.  By this time, aged nearly 50, Hurston was a giant of the African American literary and scholarly scene, not only a writer of fiction but a leading anthropologist of African-American and Caribbean folklore.

She was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, the explosion of African-American creativity which produced ground breaking art, literature, culture and commentary, centred on Harlem in the 1920s, but in later years she received less and less attention and had faded into the realms of forgotten writers by the time she died in 1960.  Opinion had been divided about her use of dialect in her novels – some felt it was a crude caricature of the speech patterns of her community, which risked feeding into racist stereotypes; others believed it was a way of celebrating the poetic cadences of the American South and exploring the way language enriches and subverts.  Her later work looked at class and gender and how they shaped the lives of disadvantaged women, both black and white.

In 1975, the writer Alice Walker led the way to a rediscovery of her work, which was rightfully placed at the forefront of American literature.  In the 80s, the publisher Virago which was dedicated to making unjustly neglected out-of-print women writers available brought her autobiography out in a British edition, which is the one we have.  Hurston brings the same sparkling prose to her own life story, the story of a woman finding her inimitable voice against all the odds presented by poverty and racism. It resonates with her energy and genius, and I found it no easier to put down than that novel I first read 30 years ago.

The covers of our books can be wonderful examples of particular fashions in graphic design. And it’s always intriguing finding inscriptions in books – some are dedications by the author, some are intimate messages commemorating the giving of a gift. This week’s cover and inscription are from the same book – Memoir of Edwin Bainbridge by Thomas Darlington, published by Morgan and Scott in 1888.  Bainbridge, aged 22, was one of the 120 victims of the eruption of Mount Tarawera, on the North Island of New Zealand, on 10th June 1886. He had been travelling the world, and died at his hotel. His old school friend Darlington set about interviewing everyone who had known him to present this tribute to his life and heroic death (survivors of the eruption remembered him leading prayers to comfort and fortify them).

The binding is an elaborate one very typical of the period, with gilt lettering and a detailed image of Tarawera.  The inscription inside reads “To dear Willie on his fifth birthday, July 2nd 1889. G. B. Saltash”.   It seems extraordinary to us that such a sombre book should have been presented to a five-year-old. Presumably G. S. Saltash considered it a duty to inspire little Wille with the austere example of the classic ideal of Victorian manhood that Darlington evokes – self-sacrificing, valiant in the face of danger, pious and athletic.  We recognise this type as a quintessential Victorian idea, and a key component of the triumphalist mythology of Empire.  I feel rather sorry for poor Willie – I can’t help thinking he might have preferred one of the colourful illustrated books of nursery rhymes or fairy tales that were popular at the time.

The last extract describing the life of a resident of Kensington was from Queen Victoria by E. Gordon Browne, published in 1915.  Victoria always emphasised the simplicity of her upbringing, and Browne quotes her as saying: 

“I was brought up very simply—never had a room to myself till I was nearly grown up—always slept in my mother’s room till I came to the throne.”

 Can you identify the subject of the following extract?  (A clue: it’s an artist and it’s the late nineteeth century).

“In his garden he had a motley collection of animals, peacocks, armadilloes, the wombat, woodchuck, or Canadian marmot, and other outlandish creatures, including the famous zebu.” 

 

Books we love

In this week’s books we love, Marion from Chelsea is reviewing On the Trail of Wolves where Philippa Forrester finds out what it’s like to live among wolves.  Her second review is the new novel by Malcolm Galdwell, Talking to Strangers, where he explores how easy it is to misread people and the damaging consequences of doing so.  Over to Marion… Continue reading “Books we love”

Books we Love

This week, we have Stephen King’s classic horror novel, The Shining.  Set in The Overlook hotel, writer and recovering alcoholic Jack takes a job as an out of season caretaker with his wife and his son.  A storm leaves the family snowbound and as son Danny’s “shining” abilities enable him to see the hotel’s past, Jack starts to lose his own grip on reality, leaving his family in terrible danger.  Here is Craig with his review. Continue reading “Books we Love”

Recommended Reads

This week’s Book of the Week is The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. We’ve put together a selection of some historical fiction you may enjoy after reading Gregory’s Tudor romance. Continue reading “Recommended Reads”